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How to cross the road in Vietnam

written by Emily Kratzmann May 29, 2017
A line of motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City

You take a deep breath and grit your teeth. A shadow falls across your face; one of determination, a need to succeed. Now’s your time. Show no fear, no hesitation. And whatever you do, don’t stop.

For some unknown reason, Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ starts ear-worming in your head – you don’t even like Eminem, yet suddenly you know all the words. Your palms are sweaty, your knees are weak and you’re having weird internal monologues like, ‘You only get one shot’ and, ‘This opportunity only comes once in a lifetime’.

Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamWe can only be talking about one thing, and it’s not a rap battle in a Detroit car park. It’s how to cross the road in Ho Chi Minh City.

Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam, boasting a population of close to 9 million people. And of those 9 million, an estimated 7.4 million own motorbikes and scooters, making the traffic here – particularly in District 1 – pretty flipping crazy. The city echoes with the sound of horns – multiple beep-beep-beeps, extended honks, and friendly toots – at all hours of the day, along with the obvious revving of motors, sirens and alarms. There’s a certain kind of beauty to it; before long, it becomes like white noise and you almost forget you’re in the heart of one of the most chaotic cities in the world.

For a first-timer, the prospect of getting across the road is a daunting task. Walking along the footpath can be equally challenging, particularly when rogue motorcycles mount the curb when the traffic on the road gets too dense. At times, it feels like nowhere is off-limits. Even when you find the security and safety of a set of traffic lights boasting a green man, there are still no guarantees the traffic will actually stop (spoiler: it doesn’t).

Early morning in Ho Chi Minh CitySo at some point, you need to crick your neck from side to side, do a Rocky-like jog on the spot, and cross the road against all odds. After all, pho, banh mi and ice-cold beer is calling. The only thing between you and delicious food, bustling markets and a super-sweet Vietnamese iced coffee is about six lanes of traffic, darting around willy nilly, like several schools of fish converging on one solitary piece of fish food. You.

HOW TO CROSS THE ROAD IN VIETNAM IN 8 EASY STEPS:

  1. First up, survey your surroundings. Remember that traffic in Vietnam drives on the right-hand side of the road (this is particularly important for our Australian, New Zealand and United Kingdom friends).
  2. Spend a moment or two gauging what the traffic is doing; if you’re at a roundabout – a particularly tricky place for pedestrians – see who has right of way and which way the traffic is going (it’s not uncommon for cars, trucks and bikes to go the WRONG way around). There’s method to the madness on the roads here; it does start to make sense after a while.
  3. When you can see that the road is relatively bike/car/scooter-free, step out. Don’t be alarmed if the bikes/cars/scooters driving towards you don’t appear to be slowing down; like sands through the hourglass, they’ll move around you (though they may also honk wildly at you too).
  4. Keep walking – with conviction – slowing down if necessary as the traffic flows around you.
  5. DO NOT STOP, DO NOT RUN, DO NOT STEP BACKWARDS! Any sudden movements will only mess with the ‘system’.
  6. Keep your head up, eyes open, and wits about you.
  7. Go slow, speed up, slow down.
  8. Step confidently onto the footpath and continue on your merry way.

Crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh CitySee? In just a few short moments, you’ll find yourself on the other side. And with that, the promise of food, self-satisfaction and a slightly faster heart rate. So get yourself a bia hoi – you’ve earned it.

DISCLAIMER: These handy road-crossing tips should get you across the road safely, but the best way to cross a busy HCMC street – or anywhere in Vietnam really – is with an experienced road-crossing guide. We’re talking the best of the best; our expert local leaders! Get ready to explore Vietnam on an Intrepid small group adventure. 

All images C/O Patrick O’Neill

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5 comments

Laura Elizabeth May 25, 2020 - 6:55 pm

I swear, if you can cross the road in Ho Chi Minh, you can cross the road anywhere! It’s definitely exhilarating the first time you visit!

Reply
Happy Luke April 25, 2018 - 12:16 pm

And you think crossing the road is such a banal task right? Well, not in most SE Asian countries! Haha the Eminem bit is so relatable. Stick with a large crowd when crossing the road or if you’re alone, make a stop hand signal and always be alert especially for motorcycles.

Reply
Maria June 5, 2017 - 6:17 pm

Hi

Yes, we learned this too, by just doing it. Another tip is to look for an old person and stick closely to them and cross as they cross!

Enjoy!

Reply
Amy Carter May 31, 2017 - 5:43 am

I found this article very amusing as I discovered all this by myself in Vietnam (I had two days before I met up with the tour group). It is also true for Cambodia and Thailand. I love how it works so well without all the rules and lights we have here in the UK!

Reply
rick be May 29, 2017 - 10:50 pm

In Turkey the way to cross a major street was to join the gathering crowd on the corner.When it met critical mass,the whole group would slowly & surely enter the traffic stream which first parted then actually stopped to let us across…safely …usually.

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